Sam Poolman, who plays for the GWS Giants in the national Super Netball competition, knows the importance of development pathways. It’s a passion that’s close to her heart, and one that led to her sitting court-side at Hunter Netball’s first outing in the Metro League just a few weeks ago.

“I went and watched their first Metro games, and it’s exciting because it shows that there are these young Hunter stars that are definitely capable of playing at that level,” Poolman said.

The 28-year-old defensive superstar, who captained Australia in the past two Fast5 series, founded ASPIRE in the Hunter to make sure that there was a “next step” for young stars wanting to make netball their potential careers.

After the Hunter Academy of Sport took over the Hunter-based Metro League from the independently run Hunter United at the beginning of 2019, a pathway appeared for the students and players who have been learning through the ASPIRE program. Now it’s clear for Poolman’s students that there can be something more for them in the future.

“It’s exciting because being able to step up from ASPIRE to the Hunter Netball system shows they’re capable of playing at that level too,” Poolman said. “They get to face established players in Sydney and realise that they’re at that level or can get to it.

“It’s awesome to see how many of these girls are playing in Metro, and in the Premier League, now because in the past for a while it wasn’t so clear where you had to go once you wanted to push on from Newcastle and the region.

“Now there’s that pathway that’s set out like a challenge. Having Newcastle and Central Coast-based teams heading to Sydney, and representing the region, gives the girls something to play for. It’s exciting to see how strong the pathways are now.

“I think because there’s this team, that is focusing on growing talent, and has these great halls and stadiums. We’re capturing the imagination of more girls than ever.”

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Poolman, who is mostly used to having huge Newcastle and Hunter netball cohorts arrive at her games in Sydney for the Giants, said she thinks the Hunter girls might have got “a kick” out of having her arrive at their games.

“I think they did get a kick yeah, it’s nice to be able to sit back and watch them play and see all the hard work we’ve put in come together out there,” she said. “I want to support them, and see what we still need to work on, and what we can put into practice with ASPIRE.

“I enjoyed it too, it was a fun game, and a few of my ASPIRE girls are in the Hunter squad, and with the Central Coast team playing in the Metro League too. It was nice to see them out on the court in that high-level competition. It’s so important for them to have that Sydney experience, and to grow from it too.”

Finally, Poolman admitted she was eager to see a Hunter side eventually find their way into the franchise system that Netball NSW runs in their Premier League competition. For Sam, who spent her formative years travelling to Sydney to represent after regions, the chance to have the next generation waving the Hunter flag would be “so special”.

“Hopefully now that Hunter Academy is behind the team, and behind the growth, we can see that possibility in the future,” the Giants defender said. “The development is always growing in the Hunter, and I think we’re well on our way to having a Premier League team right here in our own region. There’s so much talent in the Hunter.”

It’s clear that talent is again on the upswing in the region. After her years of development with the ASPIRE program, most of it is down to Poolman’s efforts.

Recently, the Hunter Academy of Sport’s under 14 squad was named, with 22 of the 24 participants having taken part in the ASPIRE Development Program. There were also three ASPIRE players named in the under 15/16 squad, with eight more also included in the Hunter CHS Schools team.

If you are interested in getting involved in Sam’s ASPIRE Development Program, you can find out more information here. Sam also hosts information on the program on her own website: sampoolman.com/aspire.